Education / Labor / Politics

Gutting Higher Education

In a meeting on October 22, APSCUF, the faculty union, once again rejected the contract proposed by PASSHE, which seeks to gut benefits and increase workloads without fair compensation. The proposal calls for a dramatic decrease – 35% – in pay for temporary faculty members, and significantly reduce health care coverage for current faculty and retirees. PASSHE’s most recent offer represents some movement from the original “bargaining objectives” which included  the creation of a new class of faculty – “Lecturers” – that would have an increased teaching load at significantly lower wages, an increased teaching load for tenured and tenure-track faculty, and deep cuts in a range of benefits.

For the past 15 months, faculty at state universities in Pennsylvania have been working without a contract and this past weekend, APSCUF met and approved a strike authorization vote in response to the state system’s rejection of their offer for binding arbitration to settle the outstanding issues in negotiations. In a letter to APSCUF President Steve Hicks, PASSHE Chancellor John Cavanaugh explained the rejection of binding arbitration, saying,

We believe it would be improper to delegate those responsibilities to a third-party arbitrator who does not have the responsibility or duty to consider the financial implications of their decisions and who is not obligated to take into account the interests of Pennsylvania taxpayers or the long-term effects of those decisions on the Commonwealth or PASSHE.

Steve Hicks, president of APSCUF responded in a letter to Chancellor Cavanaugh saying,

I was disappointed by your refusal to participate in binding arbitration. After fifteen months without a contract and given the challenges facing the System, it seemed to us to be a rational way to proceed toward a fair contract so that we could all focus our energies on serving our students to our maximum capacities.

In the letter, Hicks highlighted the issues in the contract proposal, pointing out such areas as the “draconian reductions in health care.” He said,

The reality is that APSCUF faculty pay more for their health care than any other public-sector unit in the Commonwealth.

He also responded to the proposed cuts in salary for temporary faculty of about 35%, which he noted is already more than 20% less than that of permanent faculty, and to the concern over curriculum and class sizes.

Now, in an open letter to students distributed around Kutztown University, the university faculty outlined the issues that could have an adverse affect on students in the coming months as negotiations proceed and talks of strikes continue. In the letter, faculty encouraged students to become informed of the issues by passing the letter along to other students and to their families, seeking moral support from the student body. The letter addresses issues surrounding the increase in workload for professors, saying,

This impacts the quality of education in four ways:

  1. Faculty will have less time to devote to each course.
  2. There will be more competition among students for faculty office hours and advising.
  3. Prospective faculty will not be inclined to join Kutztown, as they will be able to find better working conditions elsewhere. The only faculty who will come will be those who can’t find other jobs, leaving the system to scrape the bottom of the barrel for instructors for classes.
  4. Existing faculty, particularly those with the most experience, will look to leave for better working conditions.

It also highlights the problems associated with PASSHE’s desire to increase the number of temporary faculty at State System universities at dramatically reduced salaries. As the letter says, these people will replace “the people who assure the quality of the education you receive(d) and by extension the value of your degree, with less qualified and/or experienced faculty who would have no long-term commitment to the school.”

The next round of negotiations is slated for November 2nd in Harrisburg where APSCUF members will continue to negotiate with the state as the threat of a strike looms ever nearer.

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